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I think that we preachers try very hard to avoid associating Jesus and Christianity with judgment.  We carefully phrase our words to make sure people do not think we are judging them or trying to make them feel badly about themselves.  We emphasize truths about Jesus that proclaim his love, grace, mercy, goodness and compassion.  Jesus possesses and expresses all of these qualities.  Jesus also highlights himself as judge and warns of coming judgment.  When the apostles Peter and Paul preach the gospel, judgment is an integral element.  The gospel message of heaven itself includes the blatant presentation of judgment.  To preach the gospel according to the New Testament must include presenting Jesus as Savior, Lord and Judge who will judge all people.  The gospel does in fact warn of a coming judgment that has eternal consequences.  I believe the failure to rightly incorporate this judgment in our preaching produces an incomplete and potentially damning message.

If we were hosting Jesus at a gathering at our home or church, how would we promote this gathering?  We would be inclined to invite people to come and experience his healing, wisdom, teaching, deliverance, blessing and goodness.  Maybe people coming would come with dreams and imaginations of what Jesus would do for them.  Jesus does all of those good works among us today.  There is no doubt about it.  There is more.

Jesus also describes his coming another way: “I came to cast fire!” and “I have come to give division!” Fire and division! (Luke 12:49-53) These are what Jesus brings, too.  The author of Hebrews lets us know that “Our God is a consuming fire!” (Hebrews 12:29)  God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah and tells us “My word is like fire.” (Jeremiah 23:29) Jesus brings the fire of God’s presence and the fire of God’s word.  When John the baptizer pointed to Jesus, he described him as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

What about division?  In Jesus, the kingdom of God has come, and it comes against the kingdom of darkness.  When God spoke through Jeremiah, he was indicting the false prophets and his people who taught and followed lies about God.  They fabricated images of God, made up explanations about God and led people to follow Baal, a demonic spirit that led God’s people astray into evil.  God warns them that they can make up all they want to about God and truth, but God’s word is like fire and “like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.” (Jer 23:29)  There is ongoing division between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil.  Division exists between lies and truth.  Jesus comes to establish the division between those who belong to God and those who do not.  He is drawing people into God’s kingdom and salvation.  Those who receive salvation will be divided from those who do not.  Think about the sheep and the goats.  This division becomes eternal.

Jesus then warns the people with the following analogy of eternal judgement:

“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?  As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison.  I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”  (Luke 12:57-59)

What is Jesus saying here?  Who is our “accuser?” Is it Satan? His name means “accuser.” He is our adversary.  I don’t think Jesus is encouraging us to reconcile with Satan.  He is and will be our enemy.  Rather, I think that in this case Jesus is describing the law and commandments of God as our accuser.  The commandments of God will accuse us before the judge, and if we face the accusations of the law and commandments of God, we will without a doubt be found guilty and condemned.  As Jesus states, we will not get out of that prison, because we will never pay the last penny.  We owe too much due to our guilt: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23a)  If we go before God as our judge and are measured against the accusations of the law, we will be condemned into eternal division from God and into eternal fire of judgement.  This is why Jesus warns us to reconcile with our accuser before judgement.

How do we avoid judgment of God based on the law?  Can we become good enough to get by? Can we meet the law’s demands and follow all of the commandments of God?  The answer is “No!”  If you don’t believe me, just try it the rest of the week.

We are reconciled with the law through Jesus who fulfills every iota, every jot and tittle of the law for our sake.  Earlier in chapter 23 of Jeremiah,  the Lord is described as “The Lord our Righteousness.”  (Jer 23:6)  We have sinned and deserve condemnation; however, we become innocent and acceptable by the free gift of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, we have peace with God and do not face judgment and exile.

Jesus encourages us: “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)  The opposite is also conveyed in the New Testament by Jesus others that if we do not believe him and accept his salvation we will come into judgement and remain in death. We must accept the free gift of Jesus’ gift of fulfilling the law, lest we find ourselves being judged according to our own works.  That is a judgment we will fail every time.

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The eternal gospel of heaven includes the reality of the hour of judgment coming on the earth.  This may surprise us today in the church that the gospel includes the message of judgment to the unsaved.  We tend to set judgment over and against what we call “the gospel” or “good news;” however, Scripture sees them as conjoined. For example, when Peter preaches the gospel to Cornelius’ household he proclaims the following: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:42-43)  Peter preaches judgment and forgiveness of sins, but not one without the other.

Similarly, Paul includes the coming judgment in his gospel message to the Greeks in Athens: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment: “Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:9-11)  As the ruler of the world is judged, so his followers will be judged if they do not repent.  It is God’s hope that the Spirit’s conviction will lead to sorrow, repentance and salvation.

This eternal gospel that includes judgment goes into all the world warning people to repent and believe in Jesus.  The judgment of God draws the praise and worship of heaven rather than the moans and groans that it meets on earth.  John testifies to the praise of heaven regarding God’s judgment, “”Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just.” (Revelation 19:1-2)  Jesus himself will come in righteousness to judge and to make war! (Rev 19:11)  He comes to bring fire and division.

We are on the way to the judge.  We will see him face to face.  We will have various reactions to seeing the face of our Savior and judge.  Some will cry to the mountains and rocks “”Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.’” (Revelation 6:16)  Can you imagine anyone hiding from the face of the Jesus that has been caricatured by our culture? He is soft and cushy and cartoonish in his passivity.  This is not the image of Jesus of the New Testament.  He is the holy God.

Many others will weep and wail at the face of Jesus. (Rev 1:7)  They will mourn in regret and tragedy of neglecting and rejecting the Savior who is the Judge.  Who would ever be sad in the light of the Jesus of our cultural imagination? Doesn’t he bless everyone?  There will be that day when time ends and lack of decision for Jesus’ salvation results in eternal division.  The New Testament tells us that Jesus tell people to depart from him into eternal exile into the fires of judgment.

For those who have received Jesus’ forgiveness of sins and salvation, they will rejoice at his coming and bypass judgement to enter into the paradise of eternal life:  “But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7) These receive the fire of God’s holiness now and are saved from all that is not from God.  These receive the fire of God’s word into their hearts and lives now recognizing that today is the day of God’s salvation.  Let the fire come to us today and burn away our sinfulness and death.

The gospel confronts us with the reality of Jesus as righteous judge and the reality of a final and eternal judgement.  The gospel shows us our guilt and offers us Jesus as our innocence and freedom from condemnation.  We will face and accept Jesus as our savior, or we will face him in our guilt as judge and the law as our accuser.  Our works will not be able to save us.  So let us repent and receive the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of Jesus.  If you invite the Lord’s fire into your life today, it will burn what separates you from him and facilitate abundant life.  If you wait for the time of judgment, fire will consume you and separate you from abundant life forever

 

What sort of welcome do we express to those outside of our church and outside of the body of Christ?  We may think that by announcing “All are welcome” people ought to be rushing through the doors to join our worship of Jesus and family of faith.  If they don’t, we are inclined to think that there is something wrong with them.

But can you imagine a person who grew up in a broken family or a person who has lost their family and who is lonely and in need of companionship, parenting and brotherly love walking up to an attractive house in a comfortable neighborhood where a family seems to live in peace and love and then knocking on the door, opening it and walking into the living room, family room and then the kitchen and sitting down at the dining table to enjoy the meal along with the family?  It is preposterous.  It doesn’t happen.  As families and homeowners, we don’t want it to happen, and we lock doors and keep an eye out to make sure it doesn’t happen.  Our expectations that someone in need would overcome our home protectiveness, the social awkwardness, our tribalism and the challenge of finding a loving home and coming and sitting down at our table to eat is about on par with how a church often treats welcoming visitors.  The result is that it rarely happens, and when it does we might be a bit surprised.  In reality, from the perspective of the outsider and non-church goer, our welcome may be as inviting as the welcome sign on the door in the picture below.  The outsider might wonder “Hmmm.  How does this work? What’s going on there?”  They might have heard that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” so they are not going to risk it.  They choose to stay away.

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Without the conscious intention of it happening, our churches might seem difficult to approach like a home in a private community or one without an open porch rather than a home in a “front porch” community.  Ambridge, PA, where we lived while I attended Trinity School for Ministry for over two years billed itself as a front porch community.  Even though it was far passed its prime.  The homes in Ambridge were built close to the neighborhood streets with front porches equal to the width of the house.  The pattern of the town and style of the homes contributed to relationships and neighborliness.  If you sat on the porch, you would see your neighbors and interact with them.

Church of the Redeemer’s physical porch is far off.  We are not in a neighborhood.  People don’t walk by and interact with the church.  I am thankful that we do have some geographic neighbors active in our church, but we have few who live in proximity to our location.  Most people drive a while to come to Redeemer.   We could sit on our church porch all day and not interact with our neighbors.  However, the porch is still relevant and a necessary step to welcoming people into our lives—at home and at church.  The porch still becomes the real and figurative place where people meet, shake hands and talk comfortably about things like the weather, kids, sports and politics.  Those porch conversations lead to the fellowship at the table that leads to the relationships that change lives.  We know that when people come in they experience the hospitality and love of the Lord just like they would if they walked up and sat down at our family’s table with us.  Those who are lost from Jesus just don’t know they can do it or why they should.

As a church, we need to extend the welcome of our porch further into our neighbor’s lives.  Together as a family of faith, we experience the treasures of the kingdom of heaven every time we gather at our church.  God is present with us.  He works among us to produce his fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, patience and self-control.  When we gather together at our church, God works to transform us.  His Spirit works among us in power and love.  This is a supernatural reality that we experience, and God wants us to share all that he does and invite people into his presence and into our lives.  I know that each time I enter Church of the Redeemer, God is present and invited to express himself however he wants.  I know that anytime I am in the building, God is likely to speak and manifest himself to me and others.  People outside of the church have no idea that sort of dynamic happens among us.

Every new person that enters God’s kingdom or that becomes a part of our parish family of faith brings new gifts and a new dimension of God’s treasures among us.  I am thankful for every person God leads to worship at our church and participate in our ministries.  We are each an integral part of Christ’s body and add to his body.  As the Anglican Divine, John Donne wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.”  We are blessed by every person coming to Christ among us.

I think when we start telling a non-church goer about church and speaking in churchy language their reaction is something like an author describes a common reaction by us when we hear about some new technology: “I don’t understand it. I don’t need it. I don’t like it. You’re scaring me.”  When we extend the porch of our church and our welcome to someone, we can start with why we would hope they might come to church.  Reasons like Jesus gives us peace.  Jesus heals us in many ways.  Wherever God’s Spirit is there is freedom.  As a church, we try to love as Jesus loves.  You can come and experience God’s presence.  Jesus removes guilt and shame.  God hears our prayers, and we pray for one another.  All of these are true.  The greatest truth we can share is that Jesus gives us eternal life, and we can live in the promise of his kingdom today.  Perhaps we have come to take these treasures for granted and think they are no big deal.  The truth is that this is the biggest deal in the universe.  We cannot keep it to ourselves or keep to ourselves the wonder of how God works among us.

An Ambridge Porch with Friends from Seminary

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Look at the way God worked in the early church.  On one hand, people outside the community of believers respected them, but on the other hand, people were uneasy about joining them.  Yet, people were added to their number daily.  It seems like a contradiction.

“Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico.  None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.  And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,  so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.  The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” Acts 5:12-16

The church was meeting on the “porch,” and nobody “dared join them.”  It seems that the believers must have taken that porch out to where the people were and reached out their hands to walk them into their midst where miracles occurred.  Through the outreached hands of the believers, more and more people were healed, freed and saved.

Each one of us can be the figurative porch of our church extending the love of Jesus and our faith out into the community.  Through our porchfront conversation and handshakes, we can lead people comfortably into the hospitality of the Lord’s Table and family.  We can let them know there is nothing to fear, and they don’t have to be alone.  We can let them know where God is and how to enter his love.  We can let them know that we’ll be there with them, too.

Let’s build porches of welcome!

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I completed two weeks plus of residency in pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY.  The campus is a picturesque setting this time of year, as is the surrounding countryside.  God has brought together a diverse group of 55 or so men and women in ministry from all parts of the globe.  Many states of the US are represented as well as Australia, Philippines, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Israel, Liberia, Nigeria, England, Ireland and Canada.  At the first session of orientation, we had assigned seating.  Beside me happened to be a pastor from Ohio, Brian, who grew up in Edenton, NC and whose parents met while attending ECSU, a local college.  Beside him was Simon, an Anglican priest from the Province of Kenya who, of course, knows our friend Qampicha Wario, now Bishop of the Diocese Marsabbit and “one of our best bishops” according to Simon.

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The three days of orientation and learning sessions focused on the overall scope of the program and on the initial phases of the dissertation process that will continue over 3-4 years.  The seminary faculty and staff were impressive in their preparations and focus for the students and program.  It clearly has been continually refined over several years to be the best and most fruitful possible experience it can be.  The orientation activities facilitated new relationships and even team building among our assigned small groups. Throughout the residency, the hospitality shown to the students was overwhelming.  From the leaders of the program to the RA’s who unlocked my dorm room a few times (a story in itself — thanks Tory!), we were treated like VIP’s.  I know that we were prayed for prior to and during the residency.

Because I was able to complete my pre-residency work prior to coming, I was able to use some free time to explore hiking trails nearby.  These outings were some valuable “alone time” during days full of interaction with people.  I was blessed to be directed to some beautiful trails and areas.  I included a link with some pictures.  These adventures included encounters with deer and snakes and one time ending up six miles from where I started and being blessed to meet a family who gave me a ride back to my car.

One of the most rewarding experiences of the residency was the development of the relationships between the members of my small group.  We met about every day, had meals together, prayed for one another, laughed and joked, told stories and talked about all sorts of things.  I believe these will be lifelong friends and cohorts in ministry.

On the first Sunday, Simon Thiongo, the Anglican priest from Kenya, and Mike Mwangi, a Pentecostal pastor from Kenya, and I visited a nearby Anglican church – St. Aidan’s.  It is a five year old church that was planted by an Asbury graduate named Fr. Lee Rogers, now an Anglican priest.  The service and worship were excellent and used the liturgy from the Anglican Province of Kenya. My Christian brothers from Kenya felt right at home.  Our international Christian brothers and sisters have much to contribute to our faith and Christian maturity. I have already benefited greatly from their witness.

The second Sunday, I drove to The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, the Trappist Monastery where the monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton lived.  Celebrating the Holy Communion with the monks and about 25 guests was an incredible mystical experience.  The picture of the fawn is from the garden in front of the church at the Abbey.

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I am very thankful to everyone who has facilitated and supported this effort.  It is especially a blessing to have two trustworthy priests at our church, Fr. Erich Junger and Mother Jessica Lee, to lead worship and preach while I am gone.  Along with our deacons Rev. Susan Witwer and Rev. Dr. Fred Moncla and all of the other leaders and members of the church, all was in good and capable hands.  Most importantly, God is present with us always.

In our discussions in class and in our small groups, three things truths continually arose to me:

  1. All of us in ministry provide a personal and Biblical view of God — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit who is uniquely expressed through our personalities and giftedness.
  2. All of us have experienced challenges in life and ministry that God has redeemed by grace.
  3. All of us have benefited greatly from spiritual mentors who have taken us under their care and faithfully nurtured our spiritual development.

Some of the activities of the D. Min. program resemble elements of the M. Div program; however, we all have several years of pastoring and ministering behind us, so we bring to it all a more mature, seasoned approach.  In other words, our eyes have been opened.  We have more wisdom and spiritual gifts to share, and we have more wounds that need attention.  We’ve experienced the blessings and challenges of God’s vocation.  We come asking, “I need to know about this.” or “I need help here.” We also come offering, “I can help you with this.”

The professors of the program who taught the classes all demonstrated deep devotional lives, seasoned experience, passion for God’s word and a love for students and for teaching.  We were truly discipled, challenged and inspired by our professors.

Throughout the residency program and my hikes on the trails, the Spirit of the Lord was present and ministering.  A constant theme of it all was that God loves us and really enjoys us when we are enjoying him and his creation.  A message from the Lord that he impressed upon my heart was this: “Jesus really loves me and enjoys me and gives me freedom to enjoy life with no fear.”

Bringing people into the reality of that statement is ultimately the goal of ministry.  It implies and relies upon the constant presence of Jesus to reveal himself and make alive.  I am confident that the work of this program and the ministry I receive will serve to better facilitate this work of God.   So, may the paper writing continue…

Along those lines, the purpose of my dissertation project is to develop a training in spiritual formation to help equip the staff and volunteers of pregnancy resource centers for their ministry of life.  (helpful resource materials are welcome!)

Here is the link for pictures:

https://picasaweb.google.com/101968136012307111801/6305866782611333393?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCLvtsbH0t9jEQA&feat=directlink

 

 

 

Prayers for Healing

July 11, 2016

Prayer for Inner Healing

Lord Jesus, you came to heal our wounded and troubled hearts. I beg you to heal the torments that cause anxiety in my heart.  I beg you, in a particular way, to heal all that is the cause of sin.  I beg you to come into my life and heal me of the psychological harms that struck me in my early years and from the injuries that they caused throughout my life.

Lord, Jesus, you know my burdens.  I lay them all on your Good Shepherd’s heart.  I beseech you – by the merits of the great, open wound in your heart — to heal the small wounds that are in mine.  Heal the pain of my memories, so that nothing that has happened to me will cause me to remain in pain and anguish, filled with anxiety.

Heal, O Lord, all those wounds that have been the cause of the evil that is rooted in my life.  I want to forgive all those who have offended me.  Look to those inner sores that make me unable to forgive.  You who came to forgive the afflicted of heart, please, heal my own heart.  Heal, my Lord Jesus, those intimate wounds that cause me physical illness.  I offer you my heart, accept it, Lord, purify it and give me the sentiments of your Divine Heart.  Help me to be meek and humble.

Heal me, O Lord, from the pain caused by the death of my loved ones, which is oppressing me.  Grant me to regain peace and joy in the knowledge that you are the Resurrection and the Life.  Make me an authentic witness to your resurrection, your victory over sin and death, your living presence among us. Amen.

Prayer for Protection and Healing

Heavenly Father, I praise and thank you for all you have given me. Please cover me with the protective, precious blood of your Son, Jesus Christ, and increase your Holy Spirit in me with His gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, hunger for prayer, guidance and discernment to help me know your will and surrender to it more completely.

Father please heal my negative emotions and any wounds in my heart and spirit. Send the sword of your Holy Spirit to sever and break all spells, curses, hexes, voodoo and all negative genetic, inter-generational and addictive material, past, present or to come, known or unknown, against me, my relationships and family, finances, possessions and ministry.  Father I forgive and I ask forgiveness for my sins and failings and I ask that my whole person, body and mind, heart and will, soul and spirit, memory and emotions, attitudes and values lie cleansed, renewed and protected by the most precious blood of your Son Jesus.

In the name, power, blood and authority of Jesus Christ I bind and break the power and effect in or around me of any and all evil spirits who are trying to harm me in any way and I command these spirits and their companion spirits in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to leave me peacefully and quietly and go immediately and directly where Jesus commands them and never again return to me or my family.

Dear Holy Spirit please fill up any void in me to overflowing with your great love. All this Father I pray in the name of the Jesus Christ by the guidance of your Holy Spirit. Amen

The above prayers are taken in part from prayers compiled by Bishop Julian Porteous and published in a Manual of Minor Exorcisms.

 

 

The attached file is my latest version of a spiritual autobiography.  This one was required for a Doctorate of Ministry class at Asbury Theological Seminary.

Stephans Spiritual Autobiography

Prayer for America

July 8, 2016

“…from these very shores the Gospel shall go forth to not only this New World, but the entire world.” The Rev. Robert Hunt, Chaplain to Jamestown, April 29, 1 607, consecrating the continent to the glory God.

 Dear Heavenly Father, you are Almighty God—the Lord and maker of heaven and earth.  Precious is your Living Word, Jesus Christ, our Lord, Redeemer and Savior.  We come to you in humble repentance before your throne of grace asking for mercy and forgiveness for our sin and the sin of our land.  Lord God, your Word says, “Return to me, and I will return to you.”  Thank you, Father, for the freedoms and bounty you have given America because of your gracious blessings and the faithfulness of so many Americans who have come before us.  Remember your people in America, Lord, and let your mercy and grace triumph over your judgment of America.  Keep us under your care.  Send a spiritual awakening and a revival that will establish us as a righteous nation with godly people and leaders who worship you in spirit and in truth.  We desire to seek you and your kingdom first; we are needy, Lord, and we thank you for your steadfast love.  Grant us wisdom and discernment between truth and falsehood and between good and evil that the results of America’s governmental elections will bring glory and honor to your name.  Inspire and empower us to spread the gospel to the people of America, Israel, and to all nations.  We pray in the name of our Mighty King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ, our Lord, Redeemer, Savior and the great love of our lives.  Amen.

 “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”   II Chronicles 7:14

I adapted this prayer from a prayer in Manual of Minor Exorcisms by Roman Catholic Bishop Julian Porteous.  I led our congregation in praying it together following a sermon on the Gerasenes demoniac from Luke 8:26-39.  It is the type of prayer that I would recommend praying each day.  The final paragraph is an imperative form of deliverance spoken to any evil spirits.

Lord, almighty, merciful and omnipotent God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, drive out from me all influence of evil spirits.  Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, I plead you to break any chain that the devil has on me.  Pour upon me the most precious blood of your Son.  May his immaculate and redeeming blood break all bonds of my body and soul.  Holy God banish from me all the forces of evil, so that I can be healthy and free to do good deeds for the glory of the name of Jesus.

I ask you for the intercession and help of your mighty angels on my behalf.

In the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of his cross, resurrection and ascension, I command all demons that could have any influence over me to leave me forever.  By Jesus’ scourging, his crown of thorns, his cross, by his blood and authority over heaven and earth, I command all evil spirits to leave me.  By the true God, by the Holy God, by God who can do all, in the name of Jesus, my Savior and Lord, leave me now and go quietly from here. Amen.

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